A very important part of any social gathering – especially birthday parties – is the food! So much effort goes into theme-inspired birthday cakes, snacks and food decoration to make it delicious and perfect. But there are extra considerations if your child or someone you know attending the party has a food allergy.
Food allergies can develop at any time in someone’s life, but the most likely time to notice new food allergies are in early childhood. About 5% of young children have food allergies, and about 4% of adults have at least one allergy to a food. Notice, that the prevalence of people with food allergies decreases in the older age group, meaning that a person can outgrow a food allergy. People with a personal history or family history of eczema, asthma, or food allergies are at slightly higher risk of developing a food allergy themselves.
Up to 33% of the population have a food intolerance, which can have similar symptoms to a food allergy, but it is not life-threatening. Some signs of a food allergy and food intolerance are vomiting, diarrhea, and hives or another rash. However, a food allergy (as opposed to food intolerance) can lead to wheezing, difficulty breathing, throat closing, and lip swelling – or what we call anaphylaxis – after multiple exposures to the same food over time. The eight most common types of food allergies are cow’s milk, eggs, fish, peanuts, shellfish, soy, tree nuts, and wheat. Food allergies can be life-threatening, so if a food allergy is suspected, you should be seen by your doctor and likely an allergy specialist. If you have a true food allergy, you definitely need to avoid that specific food and carry an EpiPen on you at all times.
Pediatricians usually recommend waiting until around one year of age to start introducing the high-risk allergy food groups into a child’s diet. However, over decades studies look at different risks and benefits of early vs. late introduction of these foods, and the recommendations change accordingly.
There is a new study now suggesting that the risk of developing a food allergy may actually be decreased if you introduce some of these foods before one year old. This is just a testament to how medicine and health recommendations continue to change the more we learn! So discuss with your doctor the best and safest way to introduce new foods to your child as he grows, and what to do if you think your child might have a food allergy.